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Dallas Woman Who Worked In White House Remembers George H.W. Bush

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - Merrie Spaeth says she relished her role in helping then-Vice President George H.W. Bush prepare for his historic debate in 1984 against his Democrat rival, Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro of New York.

"I played the obnoxious, liberal female reporter and oh God, it was wonderful."

Spaeth operates Spaeth Communications in Dallas, but back then, she worked in the White House and was the Director of Media Relations for President Ronald Reagan.

Merrie Spaeth
Merrie Spaeth (CBS 11)

Mr. Bush is often described as a statesman and a gentleman, but during a Facebook Live conversation Tuesday, Spaeth remembered that became a problem while prepping for the debate. "He had a terrible time being mean to women. He just couldn't do it. He wanted to be encouraging, he wanted to be nice. He didn't know how to react when somebody basically insulted him."

While policy advisors discussed different polices, Spaeth said at one point they began debating whether there should be an exception for abortion in cases of rape.

Spaeth said one advisor convinced the Vice-President. "The issue is that every woman is afraid of rape, and that's something we as men can't really understand, and the VP, Mr. Bush was persuaded by that and said 'I'm comfortable with that'."

She said Mr. Bush was very patient and graceful, and she remembered one time when she planned a number of interviews with local tv reporters. "That was 20 interviews and so he is sitting in the diplomatic reception room, camera, card, name of the anchor, call letters, city, and at the end of them, he got up and I could see his staff, 'we're going to kill her, we're going to kill her' and he just came over and said 'Merrie, thank you. Maybe we could space these out a little more'."

Spaeth said he did not get angry. She said his willingness to do interviews shows how accessible to the media he was.

Former President Reagan and Vice-President Bush accepted their nominations for re-election during the Republican National Convention held in Dallas in 1984.

Spaeth said during the convention, Bush agreed to answer reporters' questions about foreign policy for about an hour. "What other public figure would subject themselves to that? No rehearsal, no question-screeners, no talking points and just this wealth of knowledge about not just events and issues, but personalities. Very impressive."

Aside from Spaeth, two men who have represented North Texas are remembering Mr. Bush.

Former Democrat Martin Frost served in the 24th Congressional District from 1979 through the end of 2004, and was on Capitol Hill when Reagan and Bush took office in 1981.

Republican Joe Barton of Ennis, who has served in the 6th Congressional District, is retiring in several weeks.

He was first elected in 1984, when Reagan and Bush were re-elected.

Barton said, "I wouldn't have been elected if it hadn't been for Reagan-Bush at the top of the ticket. Texas was still a Democratic state."

He said Vice-President Bush and wife Barbara campaigned for him and he said Mr. Bush helped him win. "I've known every President since Jimmy Carter and I've served with every President since President Reagan and President George HW Bush who we're honoring today after his death was the nicest, kindest one. That doesn't mean the others weren't nice and kind, but he was really a very kind person."

Frost is now President of the Former Members of Congress, an association of about 1,000 members of the U.S. House and Senate.

He said the organization gives annual statesmanship awards to a Democrat and Republican, and that the group plans to honor Mr. Bush in a second way. "We presented that award four years ago to President Bush and we're going to rename that award in his honor and recognizing service to our country. I found him to be an extraordinarily decent human being."


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